Transportation
4:11 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

New study indicates that Americans drive less than they used to

A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that Americans who drive light-duty vehicles (cars, SUVS, pick-up trucks, and vans) don't drive as far as they used to. 

The study, from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (MTRI), was published this month, and looks at national driving trends from 1984-2011. 

According to MTRI's findings, the distance people drove peaked in 2004. Distances were evaluated based on how much a person, a licensed driver, a household and a registered vehicle traveled. 

The major takeaway from the study is that because distances decreased before the 2008 recession, the lower numbers weren't a result of a short-term issue. Essentially, the lower distances driven seem to be a part of a longer term trend. 

The absolute distance driven by a licensed driver in 2004 was 13,711 miles. In 2011, that number dropped to 12,492.  The study attributes some of the drop to new trends like telecommuting.

The distance driven rate by percentage change from 2004-2011 is as follows:

  • Per person: -8.8%
  • Per licensed driver: -8.9%
  • Per household: -9.4%
  • Per registered vehicle: -5.3%

The study was also the subject of an article by Jim Motavalli in The New York Times. The article included an interview with Micheline Maynard, a former bureau chief for the Times, and form editor for Michigan Radio's Changing Gears project. She said:

Driving is definitely down, though I would certainly not say the auto industry is going away. I think it can maintain 15-million annual sales years in the United States for some time to come, although some people were predicting we'd be at 20 million vehicles by now."

Ms. Maynard said that the percentage of teenagers getting driver's licenses has reached "recent lows," a conclusion also reflected in Mr.  Sivak's work. She also pointed to families whose finances were heavily affected by the recession. 

"One of the expenses you can cut most easily is your car," she said. The Obama administration's aggressive financing of public transit has also led to improved street car, light rail and bus alternatives, she said, adding that bicycle and car-sharing have also risen as options. 

The data that was collected using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (2012, for household data), the Federal Highway Administration (2013, for number of registered vehicles and licensed drivers), and ProQuest (2012, for resident population).

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio News